Short Story Structure pt2

man-160088_640Last time, I introduced the idea of a structure for your short story. We looked specifically at ‘exposition,’ the beginning. Hopefully you have enough information to make the reader want to continue beyond the first paragraph.  The next trick is to keep them reading beyond the next paragraph! This is where rising action comes in.

Rising Action

Without conflict or complications there is no plot; this is the struggle between the hero and opposing forces. Those forces could be external or internal to the hero, for example:

* External (Physical) – the hero has to face and overcome physical barriers, such as another person, the wicked witch, the dragon protecting the gold.

This can also include conflict with forces of nature or the environment, such as braving the storm to reach his family, or climbing to the top of a mountain to reach the treasure.

* Internal. These also fall into several categories:

Circumstances – The hero has to overcome the circumstances he is facing, such as battling fate, or his family background.

Society – The hero needs to overcome the prejudices of others, or their ideas, such as going against his families wishes to enter into a gay marriage.

Psychological – The hero has to battle his own emotions, or preconceptions, such as joining forces with an enemy to achieve the goal.

Ok, but do I really need conflict?

Imagine a story where you create and describe a fantastic world and create great characters, but the story is about them going through their daily routines: they go to work, come home, cook a meal, read a story to their children and then go to bed. And they do the same the next day and the next and so on. Not good, right? I got bored writing that sentence.

Conflict (tension) is necessary to keep the reader interested: will they be able to get that promotion over the annoying office newbie? Will the husband put the poison in the meatballs for the evening meal? Can the hero escape from the terrorists and get home to read his son a bedtime story?

That struggle against the odds is what keeps the pages turning. The rising action sees progressively more difficult hurdles placed in front of your hero. Each one that is overcome would ideally place your hero in a more challenging situation, leading us ultimately to…

The Climax

This is where it all comes to a head. This is what the reader has been waiting for. Hopefully you have done enough with the tension to keep the ending broadly ambiguous. This is the point where the hero finally succeeds or fails. What makes it more powerful is if the reader cares about the character and they know what’s at stake and the consequences.

What should I look for in a climax?

* Don’t make it too easy – avoid the ‘Deus Ex Machina’ ending. This is where something or someone is introduced into the story and neatly wraps everything up in a pleasing way.

Examples of Deus Ex Machina:

* A divine being comes down and strikes the villain dead.

* The villain suddenly has a heart attack and dies.

* The hero wins the lottery and saves his failing business.

* Try to stay away from the clichés – the guy who hates the woman all the way through, realises she is the love of his life, etc.

Falling action

Whether the hero succeeds or fails, what comes next is the wrapping up of your story, with events playing out as a result of the climax. Sometimes this element can be combined with…

Denoument (resolution). This is where you wrap up any loose ends in your plot, explaining any outstanding plot points. It could be that the hero is in a better position than he was at the outset, or if it is a tragedy, he could be worse off (dead?).

Story structure, as I have talked about here, was proposed by Gustav Freytag, a nineteenth century German novelist. He developed the ‘Freytag Pyramid’ which can be seen in the previous post on Story Structure.  What I have suggested here is a basic introduction to structure that can hopefully set you on your way to writing your first short story. If you wish to look further into Freytag’s work, you can check out this Online Resource Guide to Freytag’s Pyramid. There are also many excellent resources online with regard to structuring your short story, some of which I will link to in the future, for your reference.

Now, you just need to get writing! Let me know in the comments how you feel your first efforts go. Good luck!


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